US Protest Law Tracker

The US Protest Law Tracker, part of ICNL’s US Program, follows initiatives at the state and federal level since November 2016 that restrict the right to peaceful assembly. For information about our methodology, click here.

40 states have
considered
135 bills
25 enacted 2 enacted with
improvements
21 pending 87 defeated or
expired

No initiatives
Pending, defeated or expired initiatives
Enacted initiatives

Legislation and executive orders

Latest updates: Oct. 16, 2020 (New York), Oct. 7, 2020 (Michigan), Aug. 30, 2020 (US Federal)
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US Federal

HR 8117: Stripping Pandemic Aid from Individuals Convicted of “Protest-Related” Federal Crimes

Would withdraw COVID-19 unemployment benefits from and impose new costs on anyone convicted of a federal offense “related to the individual’s conduct at and during a protest.” Such a person would be ineligible for federal unemployment aid under the CARES Act (15 U.S.C. 9023) “or any other Federal supplemental unemployment compensation during the COVID–19 public health emergency.” If federal agents were involved in policing the protest at issue, the person who was convicted of a related federal offense would also have to pay the cost of the agents’ policing activity, “as determined by the court.” Federal offenses include both violations of federal law, and violations of state law that occur on federal property. As such, the bill’s withdrawal of benefits and imposition of new costs could apply to, e.g., a peaceful protester convicted of misdemeanor trespass for refusing to leave a demonstration on the steps of a federal courthouse or a sit-in at a congressional office. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 28 Aug 2020.

Issue(s): security costs

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US Federal

S 4424: Withhold Federal Funding for Failure to Prosecute Destructive Protest Activities

Would empower the U.S. Attorney General to withhold up to 10% of select federal funding from a state prosecutor's office, district attorney's office, or state attorney general office, if the U.S. Attorney General determines that the office has "abused the use of prosecutorial discretion by failing to prosecute crimes stemming from riots or other violent or destructive protest activities." Many riot statutes in the U.S. are broadly worded and can encompass non-violent protest activity. In the past, peaceful protesters have been prosecuted under these statutes. This bill could encourage an aggressive interpretation of riot statutes as well as other laws that could be used against peaceful demonstrators. On September 17, 2020, HR 8301 was introduced in the House of Representatives, which has nearly identical language to S 4424. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 4 Aug 2020.

Issue(s): riot

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US Federal

S 4266: Withhold Federal Funding for Failure to Either Prosecute or Properly Police a Riot

Would empower the U.S. Attorney General to withhold select federal funding if the Attorney General determines that a state or local government has a "custom or policy" of not prosecuting an individual engaged in unlawful activity as part of a riot or if they decline to prosecute because the "unlawful activity is related to or associated with expression of speech protected by the First Amendment". The U.S. Attorney General can also withhold select federal funding if a senior official, governing body, or policy prohibits law enforcement from taking action that would prevent or mitigate physical injury or property depredation related to a riot. The U.S. Attorney General could withhold up to 25% of select federal funding or twice the monetary value of property damaged or physical injury caused by the failure of the state or local government to take "reasonable steps" to protect against damage and injury. The bill also would create liability for "a person with the lawful authority to direct a law enforcement agency" to prohibit law enforcement from taking action that would prevent or materially mitigate significant injury or property destruction related to a riot. The bill defines riot using the broad federal definition of riot. Such broadly worded riot provisions have been used to prosecute peaceful protesters in the past. This bill may pressure law enforcement to police assemblies aggressively to ensure that their policing practices are not second guessed by the federal government resulting in loss of funding or because doing otherwise might open them up to civil litigation. The bill could also lead to the aggressive interpretation of riot statutes against peaceful protesters by prosecutors so as not to risk losing federal funding. A companion bill HR 7786 has been introduced in the House. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 22 Jul 2020.

Issue(s): damage costs, police response, riot

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US Federal

DOT Legislative Proposal: New federal criminal penalties for protests near pipelines

In its proposed congressional reauthorization of pipeline safety programs, the Department of Transportation included expanded criminal penalties that could be applied to protests near gas and oil pipelines. The proposal would newly criminalize under federal law "vandalizing, tampering with, impeding the operation of, disrupting the operation of, or inhibiting the operation of" a pipeline or a pipeline construction site. The offense would be punishable by up to 20 years in prison, and/or a steep fine: up to $250,000 for an individual, or $500,000 for an organization. Any "attempt" or "conspiracy" to commit the offense would likewise be subject to a 20-year prison sentence. Accordingly, individuals as well as organizations that participate in a protest or engage in the planning of a protest deemed to "inhibit" a pipeline construction site could face lengthy prison sentences and/or steep fines. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 3 Jun 2019.

Issue(s): conspiracy, infrastructure

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Illinois

HB 2280: Mandatory sanctions for campus protesters

Would create mandatory disciplinary sanctions that could be applied to peaceful protesters on college and university campuses. Like HB 2939, introduced in the 2017-2018 session, HB 2280 requires public universities and community colleges to adopt a policy prohibiting and subjecting to sanction any “protests or demonstrations that infringe upon the rights of others to engage in or listen to expressive activity” on campus. Additionally, the bill requires administrators to suspend for at least one year or expel any student who is twice “found responsible for infringing on the expressive rights of others,” such as through a protest of a campus speaker. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 8 Feb 2019.

Issue(s): campus speech

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Illinois

HB 1633: New penalties for protests near critical infrastructure

Would heighten the penalties for protests near oil and gas pipelines and other infrastructure that involve trespassing onto infrastructure property. Under the bill, knowingly trespassing to a critical infrastructure facility is a Class 4 felony, punishable by $1,000 and 3 years in prison. Aggravated criminal trespass to a critical infrastructure facility--defined as trespass with intent to vandalize, deface, or tamper with the facility--is a Class 3 felony punishable by $10,000 and 10 years in prison. The bill would also create a broadly-defined new offense, “criminal damage to a critical infrastructure facility,” which includes knowingly vandalizing, defacing, or tampering with critical infrastructure and does not require actual damage. The offense is a Class 1 felony, punishable by $100,000 and 15 years in prison. An individual convicted of any of the offenses is also civilly liable for money damages, court costs, and attorney’s fees to the owner of the property, for any damage sustained. The bill newly defines “critical infrastructure facility” under Illinois law to include a range of oil, gas, electric, water, telecommunications, and railroad facilities that are fenced off or posted. As introduced, the bill also provided that an organization found to have conspired with an individual to commit any of above offenses would be liable for a fine of at least ten times the minimum fine authorized for the individual, however these provisions were removed by an amendment. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 31 Jan 2019; Approved by House 11 April 2019

Issue(s): conspiracy, infrastructure

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Massachusetts

HB 1428: New penalties for protests that block roads

Would penalize “any person who intentionally blocks or prevents access to a public roadway or highway while protesting with the express purpose of preventing passage of others.” Under the bill, anyone who intentionally blocked a public road in the course of a protest could be sentenced to up to ten years in prison. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 22 Jan 2019.

Issue(s): traffic interference

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Massachusetts

HB 3284: New criminal liability for deaths during protests

Would create the new criminal offense of “manslaughter caused by reckless disregard of life while protesting or blocking highway or roadway access.” The offense would be added to the definition of “manslaughter” under Massachusetts law. Accordingly, if organizers led a protest onto a road and a protester was hit by a car, e.g., the organizers could potentially be held liable for manslaughter under the bill. The offense would be punishable by up to twenty years in prison. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 22 Jan 2019.

Issue(s): traffic interference

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Massachusetts

S 1036: Heightened penalties for blocking traffic

Would penalize anyone who obstructs or attempts to obstruct "the normal movement of traffic, commerce, or any emergency medical services on a limited access or express state highway" in a manner that is dangerous to the general public. Under the bill, whoever commits this act could be punished up to 10 years in jail. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 22 Jan 2019.

Issue(s): traffic interference

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Massachusetts

HB 1588: Prohibition on masked demonstrations

Would compel the immediate dispersal of a demonstration or other assembly of people wearing masks or other disguises. The bill provides that if a group of five or more individuals who are "masked or in any manner disguised by unusual or unnatural attire or facial alteration" assemble together, authorities should command them to disperse. If the assembly does not immediately disperse, they are deemed a riot or unlawful assembly and the authorities can compel anyone present to help "suppress" the assembly and arrest those participating. The bill makes no exception for religious or festive attire. Nor does it require any malicious intent by those assembling or conduct beyond wearing masks and assembling in a group. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 17 Jan 2019.

Issue(s): face coverings, riot

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Michigan

HB 6269: Revoking Public Benefits of those Charged during "Civil Unrest"

Would revoke public assistance benefits for one year for someone who is “charged with looting, vandalism, or a violent crime in relation to or stemming from civil unrest.” “Civil unrest” is defined to include simply unlawfully blocking a sidewalk or roadway or an unlawful assembly. ”Violent crime” is defined broadly to include “intimidation, threat, or coercion.” As such, a nonviolent protester who was charged, but not convicted, of making a threat or being intimidating at a protest could lose their public assistance, including medical and food assistance from the state. The bill further requires that if the person has their child with them when they are charged with a covered crime that the individual will be reported to child protective services. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 29 Sep 2020.

Issue(s): riot

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Michigan

HB 4436: New limits on campus protests

Would impose new limits on protests at public colleges and universities. The bill would require all public institutions of higher education to adopt a policy prohibiting protests and demonstrations that “substantially and materially infringe upon the rights of others to engage in or listen to expressive activity,” and make protesters involved in such assemblies "subject to sanction." As a result, protests in public areas of campus that, for instance, made it difficult to hear a speech, would be banned and its participants liable to penalties. The policy would apply not only to students and faculty but any other person “lawfully present on campus.” (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 9 Apr 2019.

Issue(s): campus speech

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Missouri

SB 9: Heightened penalties for blocking roads

Would criminalize protests that block traffic as "unlawful traffic interference" and provide for harsh penalties. Under the bill, a person's intentional blocking of traffic on a public street or highway, whether with her body or an object, is a Class A misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $2,000 fine. If the offense is repeated, or takes place on an interstate highway, it is a Class E felony, punishable by up to four years in jail and a $10,000 fine. If the offense is committed while the person is part of an unlawful assembly, it is a Class D felony, which is punishable by up to seven years in prison and a $5,000 fine. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 27 Jul 2020.

Issue(s): traffic interference

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New Jersey

AB 3760: Expanded definition of "riot"

Would expand the definition of "riot" to apply to individuals in a group whose disorderly conduct results in property damage. Under the bill, anyone who participates in “disorderly conduct” in a group of four or more may be charged with rioting, if anyone in the group causes any damage to property or other monetary loss. “Disorderly conduct” is broadly defined under New Jersey law, to include any “tumultuous behavior” that causes public annoyance—even swearing loudly. If the damage caused by anyone in the group costs $2,000 or more, anyone in the group can be charged with a third-degree crime, which is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of $15,000. According to the bill, individuals convicted under the riot provisions related to property damage must also reimburse the property owner or State of New Jersey for the damages or loss incurred. The same bill was initially introduced in May 2017 as AB 4777, and again in 2018 as AB 2853. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 6 Mar 2020.

Issue(s): damage costs, riot

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New Jersey

A 5731: Mandatory penalties for campus protesters

Would create mandatory disciplinary sanctions that could be applied to peaceful protesters on college and university campuses. The bill requires all public institutions of higher education to adopt a policy that bars members of the campus community from engaging in conduct that “materially and substantially disrupts another person’s expressive activity or infringes on the rights of others to engage in or listen to expressive activity.” Under the required policy, any member of the campus community that has twice materially and substantially disrupted the expressive rights of others--such as by protesting a controversial speaker--must be given a minimum punishment of a one-term suspension. If a lesser punishment is imposed, the institution has to submit an explanation in writing to the institution’s Committee on Free Expression. The bill also requires that “a range of disciplinary sanctions” be imposed for anyone under the jurisdiction of the institution who materially and substantially disrupts the free expression of others. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 23 Aug 2019.

Issue(s): campus speech

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New York

A 11069: Heightened Penalties for Riot and Incitement to Riot

Would enhance the penalties for first and second degree “riot” as well as “incitement to riot.” Under New York Law, “incitement to riot” is broadly defined, and could cover a person or organization found to have “urged” a group of people to protest in a “tumultuous and violent” way. The bill would make the offense a Class E felony, punishable by up to four years in prison, instead of a Class A misdemeanor. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 7 Oct 2020.

Issue(s): riot

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New York

A 10603: Heightened penalties for “riot” and “incitement to riot” by non-residents

Would heighten the penalties for “riot” and “incitement to riot” for defendants who are not New York residents, by creating two new criminal offenses. Under the bill, a non-resident who either commits “riot in the second degree” or “incitement to riot” is guilty of “travel to riot in the second degree,” a Class E felony. Notably, New York law broadly defines “riot in the second degree” to include “tumultuous and violent conduct” with four or more people that “intentionally or recklessly… creates a grave risk of causing public alarm.” A person is guilty of “incitement to riot” under New York law if he or she “urges” ten or more people “to engage in tumultuous and violent conduct of a kind likely to create public alarm.” The bill creates an additional Class D felony for non-residents who commit first-degree riot. The bill was proposed after widespread protests in New York City following the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 5 Jun 2020.

Issue(s): riot

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Ohio

HB 362: New penalties for protesters who conceal their identity

Would broadly prohibit the wearing of masks or other disguises in certain circumstances during protests. Like HB 423, introduced in the 2017-2018 session, the bill criminalizes the wearing of a mask or disguise to intentionally "obstruct the execution of the law," "to intimidate, hinder, or interrupt" a person who is performing a legal duty, or to prevent a person from exercising rights granted to them by the Constitution or laws of Ohio (such as the right to assemble). Under the bill, commission of "masked intimidation" as defined by any of the above would be a first degree misdemeanor, subject to up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. According to its sponsors, the bill originated out of concerns about violent confrontations caused by masked protesters. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 8 Oct 2019.

Issue(s): face coverings

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Ohio

SB 33: New penalties for protests near critical infrastructure

Would heighten the penalties for protests near oil and gas pipelines and other infrastructure by expanding the definitions of "criminal trespass" and "criminal mischief." Like SB 250, introduced in the 2017-2018 session, SB 33 provides that entering and remaining on marked or fenced-off property that contains a "critical infrastructure facility" is criminal trespass and a first degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine. Doing so with the purpose of "tampering with" the facility would constitute aggravated trespass, a third degree felony--punishable by up to ten years in prison and a $20,000 fine. Knowingly, "improperly tampering" with the facility would constitute "criminal mischief," likewise a third degree felony. "Critical infrastructure facility" is expansively defined to encompass oil, gas, electric, water, telecommunications, and railroad facilities among many others. The bill also imposes fines on organizations found guilty of "complicity" in the trespass or mischief offenses, in the amount of ten times the maximum fine that can be imposed on an individual. Ohio law defines "complicity" to include soliciting, procuring, aiding, abetting, or conspiring with another to commit an offense. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 12 Feb 2019; Approved by Senate 1 May 2019

Issue(s): conspiracy, infrastructure

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Pennsylvania

SB 887: New penalties for protests near "critical infrastructure"

Would heighten potential penalties for protests near oil and gas pipelines and other critical infrastructure by creating a new offense of "critical infrastructure facility trespass.” According to the bill, entering or merely attempting to enter property containing a critical infrastructure facility, without permission of the property owner, would be a third degree felony punishable by up to one year in prison; remaining at the facility after being ordered to leave would be a second degree felony, likewise punishable by up to one year in prison. Entering a critical infrastructure facility with the intent to “damage, destroy, vandalize, deface, tamper with equipment or impede or inhibit operations of the facility,” would be a second degree felony punishable by imprisonment for up to one year. It would also be a second degree felony, subject to one year’s imprisonment, to “conspire[] with another person to commit” any of the above offences. An individual who commits any of the offenses a second time would face penalties of the next felony degree. The law newly defines “critical infrastructure facility” under Pennsylvania law to include a broad range of oil, gas, electric, water, telecommunications, and railroad facilities, such as gas and oil pipelines “buried or above ground.” The definition of “critical infrastructure facility” applies to facilities “constructed or under construction,” and includes “equipment and machinery, regardless of whether stored on location or at a storage yard, to the extent that it is used to construct a critical infrastructure facility.” (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 7 Oct 2019.

Issue(s): conspiracy, infrastructure, trespass

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Pennsylvania

SB 323: Charging protesters for the costs of responding to a protest

Would make individual protesters potentially liable for “public safety response costs” incurred by the state or a political subdivision during a protest or demonstration. Like SB 176, introduced in the 2017-2018 session, the bill allows local authorities to seek restitution from protesters convicted of a misdemeanor or felony in the course of a protest or demonstration, in order to pay for the costs of responding to the event. Such costs could include outlays for police, fire department, and medical services, as well as “related legal, administrative, and court expenses.” (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 22 Feb 2019.

Issue(s): security costs

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Rhode Island

H 7543: New Penalties for Protesters Who Conceal Their Identity

Would make it unlawful for a person to wear protective equipment, such as a "gas mask", "kneepads", "riot helmets", "face visors", or "vests" during a demonstration, rally, or parade. It also bans wearing "a mask or disguise with the specific intent to intimidate or threaten another person". A violation of the Act would be punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a $1000 fine. The broad language in the Act could be used to ban a range of masks and equipment that could be part of the expressive component of a demonstration. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 12 Feb 2020.

Issue(s): face coverings

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Virginia

SB 5079: New civil liability for law enforcement agencies that “stand down” during a riot or unlawful assembly

Would allow someone who is injured or sustains any property damage to sue the director of a law enforcement agency, if the person's injuries or damage were incurred as a result of the director ordering law enforcement officers not to take action in response to a riot or unlawful assembly. The bill provides that, in such lawsuits, a plaintiff may recover compensatory damages, punitive damages, and reasonable attorney fees and costs, including costs and reasonable fees for expert witnesses. If enacted, the bill’s proposal would create incentives for law enforcement to use more aggressive, provocative tactics against protesters, including peaceful protesters, in order to avoid a costly lawsuit. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 17 Aug 2020.

Issue(s): damage costs, police response, riot

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Virginia

SB 5058: Heightened penalties for remaining at an unlawful assembly or riot

Would increase the criminal penalty for remaining at the place of a declared “unlawful assembly” or “riot” after having been lawfully warned to disperse. The penalty would be a Class 1, rather than Class 3 misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine. Virginia law defines “unlawful assembly” broadly, to include a gathering of three or more people that “tends to inspire” a “well-grounded fear of serious and immediate breaches of public safety, peace or order.” Peaceful protesters who failed to leave the scene of such a gathering, after being ordered to do so, could accordingly face up to one year in jail. (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 17 Aug 2020.

Issue(s): riot

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Virginia

SB 5074: New penalties for protests that block emergency vehicles

Would heighten existing penalties for anyone who “unreasonably or unnecessarily obstructs the delivery of emergency medical services,” or who “refuses to cease such obstruction or move on when requested to do so” from a Class 2 misdemeanor to a Class 6 felony, if the violation occurs at the site of a riot or unlawful assembly. Virginia law defines “unlawful assembly” broadly, to include a gathering of three or more people that “tends to inspire” a “well-grounded fear of serious and immediate breaches of public safety, peace or order.” Under the bill, participants in a peaceful street protest who failed or were unable to make way for emergency vehicles, for instance, could face felony charges if their gathering was deemed to be an “unlawful assembly.” (See full text of bill here)

Status: pending

Introduced 17 Aug 2020.

Issue(s): riot

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For more information about the Tracker, contact Elly Page at EPage@icnl.org.